The Bush administration has been indicating that the first order of business the president would like Congress to address is Social Security reform. This is because a crisis is looming in the Social Security system that will cause its eventual collapse. Even the president’s critics do not doubt this forecast, their sole point of contention being the date of the crash, and how loud a sound it will make.
But the crash is coming. By 2018, the amount of money coming in from payroll taxes, those deductions seen on your paycheck with the mystifying acronyms, will be insufficient to pay for the benefits being claimed by retirees. If not fixed by then, Congress will have to either borrow money from the rest of the budget to make up the difference, raise payroll taxes, or drastically cut benefits.
While the president’s proposal of individual retirement accounts in lieu of a Social Security account is interesting and laudable, it still will not change the solvency of the entire system, because it simply diverts funds toward another source. As for raising taxes to fill the gap, Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institute estimates that payroll taxes will have to be increased by 14 percent. Apply that to your own paycheck and try to imagine how palatable that would be to the average taxpayer. The only politically feasible method of balancing the budget will be to drastically cut benefits.
Thus, the vast majority of the people reading this paper will never receive their Social Security benefits as it is currently constituted. Perhaps we might receive a fraction of our money back if personal retirement accounts are created, but by the time we retire, Social Security will look far different than it does today. We have been forewarned so that we can plan ahead for our retirement, rather than staking all of our hopes on Social Security.
But what about those people retiring in 15 or 20 years? They are our parents, who will be turning 65 and preparing to collect their Social Security checks. If they have not been saving throughout their lifetimes, they will be woefully unprepared for their retirement, and Social Security will likely not be there for them. And even if Social Security is somehow “fixed,” it will most likely be transformed into a program that will not meet their financial needs.
Obviously, what is needed is a plan of action to help cushion the blow of the collapse of Social Security on the retirees of the next few decades. Basic human decency requires that we care for the elderly when they cannot do so for themselves. Also, we as a society bear a share of responsibility for their plight, insofar as retirees have relied on the promise of Social Security made by our government. But how can we actualize this?
If the retirees of tomorrow are our parents, then we are their children. Our primary job as members of a family is to care for one another. If Mom and Dad cannot make it on their own when they retire, then it is up to us to look after them, just as they looked after us when we were young. It is our duty.
And this is how it should be — parents taking care of their children, and children, in turn, caring for their parents. This aspect is wholly absent from the debate over Social Security, but it shouldn’t be. Government does not always need to be the answer, and the care of a loved one is always superior to the cold indifference of a bureaucracy. Yes, there will always be those whose children cannot or will not support them. But by working through private organizations, government social services or through individual effort, we can help those people. We as a society should not hide behind government programs in order to shirk our responsibilities.
Sean Paroski is a senior applied mathematics major.